After a few days of practice, most all of the 30 riders competing in the halfpipe appear to be struggling, slowing considerably as they raced through the slow trough. Defending medalist Shaun White looked solid two days ago but last night appeared frustrated with the pipe condition.
Deep sugary snow in the middle of the halfpipe is slowing riders as they power toward the 22-foot walls. Many were simply ollying the trough – hopping over granulated snow – during recent practice sessions.
They skidded down the bottom shaking their heads, huddling with coaches in obvious distress over the conditions.
The halfpipe at Cypress Mountain for the 2010 Winter Olympics also was a mess before the contest. Warm weather and rain left the trough a near river. Trucks hauled snow to make repairs and the pipe was fine for competition.
One rider at Sunday night's practice said: "They need to get Frank Wells here," calling for the legendary Snow Park Technologies pipe carver who sculpts the Aspen X Games halfpipe and most top-tier terrain parks and halfpipes.
It's not the first time athletes have bemoaned the absence of Snow Park Technologies at the Olympics, revealing the influence of SPT on professional park riding. Many of the riders wished that Snow Park Technologies had been involved in designing the course's features.
"Usually SPT builds all the top courses in the world and I'm not sure who built this," said Jamie Anderson after Thursday's qualifying session, where riders worked with designers to change take-off jumps. "We are all making the best of what it is but it's not the best course we have ever ridden."
Eventually the slopestyle course was tweaked to make it flow smoother for the riders. Anderson went on to win the women's contest on Sunday.
There's hope similar changes will fix the pipe before Tuesday's qualifiers and final. Athletes who risk their lives hurling themselves off mega ramps put a lot of trust in the park designers who sculpt jumps and landings. Few can name the Russian developer who built the venues at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
On Tuesday, halfpipe snowboarders will compete in two, two-run rounds of qualifying and a night final. Add in a couple practice runs per rider and that means the pipe will be churned by at least a few hundred runs down the pipe before the finals.
"They haven't been able to make it rideable for practice. I don't know how they are going make it rideable for an entire day," Davis said. "I really hope it gets better."
Davis said he would not be able to throw his planned run in the pipe as it is now. If the finals were held last night, he said: "I probably would have pulled a Shaun and been like 'I boycott. I'm not doing it.'"
"I don't think I could do very well in that thing" as it is, he said. "Some kids can throw down in there somehow. But everyone was having trouble last night."